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Brent Sadler: Kurds say time is ripe

CNN correspondent Brent Sadler
CNN correspondent Brent Sadler

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•  Commanders: U.S. | Iraq
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NORTHERN IRAQ (CNN) -- Coalition airstrikes continue in northern Iraq, teaming with Kurdish and other opposition forces fighting on the ground.

CNN correspondent Brent Sadler has been working near several northern hot spots and on Thursday discussed how the situation is developing.

SADLER: I'm talking from Sulaimaniya, but I've spent many days along several key parts of this largely inactive northern front. Inactive, that is, until these last few days.

What we're seeing on the ground near Kalak today, which is a couple of hours away by car from my location, is a further degradation of Iraq's front line defenses around one of two key northern cities, Mosul. CNN's Ben Wedeman has been up on the ridge line overlooking Kalak, a ridge line that's been pounded by coalition airstrikes during the last couple of weeks. Iraqi soldiers have been abandoning those positions without a fight and pulling back toward Mosul.

It's the same sort of pattern as we've seen not far from Sulaimaniya at a place called Chamchamal. Again, the Iraqis have been pulling back without much of a fight and consolidating their positions around Kirkuk and Mosul.

I've been able to get to within about 10 miles of Kirkuk -- able to see the oil capital of the north: a burning flare, a harmless flare, burning off gases from one of the major oil fields on the outskirts of Kirkuk.

It was the first time we'd been able to get within camera shot of that city. Kirkuk is largely inhabited by Kurdish families, by Kurdish people. That's why Kirkuk now is gaining a lot of attention from the United States on the ground here in northern Iraq.

I can confirm that today there are top level meetings among the Iraqi opposition. Think of these Kurdish forces working under the umbrella of the Iraqi opposition as a whole, not just Kurdish elements of the opposition, in coordination and direct liaison with U.S. special forces on the ground and command and control from Central Command.

We know there's been a continuing buildup of U.S. presence on the ground here. And we do know the Kurdish political levels here, under the umbrella of the opposition, are trying to convince the United States that Kirkuk is ripe for a joint operation -- continued U.S. airstrikes against Iraqi positions around Kirkuk and a further utilization by the United States of opposition forces.

This is what Barham Salih, the prime minister of the Kurdish regional government in this Sulaimaniya area, has to say about the U.S. Central Command using these opposition forces to even greater effect:


BARHAM SALIH: The stakes are very high. We're telling our American friends we can do it together, we can do Baghdad together, we can do Iraq together. We, the Iraqi people, together with the American liberators and the British liberators, we can achieve the task of getting rid of Saddam Hussein and his terrorist allies.

(End of videotape)

SADLER: By "terrorist allies," read that the Kurdish and the Iraqi opposition believe, for all intents and purposes, that the conventional military abilities of the Iraqi army have been very badly damaged and that Saddam Hussein is now relying on irregulars for terrorist-style hit-and-run operations, consolidation in the cities to mount terror-type operations, hit-and-run suicide attacks, and that kind of activity.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CNN's policy is to not report information that puts operational security at risk.

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